Optimising Communications – time to think differently? – [FULL INTERVIEW]

In this latest interview with Simon Brennan we discuss the importance of personalization and effective customer engagement in an increasingly uncertain world.

There is a need to evolve traditional processes and metrics, with a focus on harnessing data for better customer experiences. The biggest challenge remains integrating siloed systems and data sources to drive personalization.

In the current world empathy and proactive support for customers, which can lead to long-term loyalty and significant payback for businesses that adapt in the right way is now critical and something we need to be build into our processes going forward.

Find out more about Engage Hub-> Here.

Interview Transcript

So hi, everyone. I’m here with Simon Brennan today who’s the VP of Sales for Europe for engage hub. So Simon, thanks very much for joining me. Pleasure, Chris. It’s great to see you again and catch up a little bit. And you could get to get a bit of a catch up around what you’ve seen as sort of like the contact world and the engagement world really since since we last chatted.

Yeah, I think, obviously, with the current financial market, some of the changes some of the things going on, and I know it was early ish days in COVID. When we last spoke, it’s almost we’ve come out the back of that the transition in terms of what has become the not the new normal, but the continued actual normal for organisations since that time, and then more recently, as things have evolved, we are seeing changes in our world. I mean, in terms of contact centre, certainly one thing we’ve seen is automation is is key, but the right automation, I think the the likes of automation and chatbots. It, it still can be perceived by some as a little bit of a dirty word or phrase. I think the by far the biggest thing is when it’s done well, and it’s done properly, it absolutely elevates a contact centre. And it’s about getting that right balance, I think is really, really important. But we’ve certainly got a lot of people interested in how they can automate, how they can improve processes, how they can remove, particularly things like avoidable contacts. And that’s avoidable in terms of not the people themselves, but things that are quite a simple inquiry, that which in theory, could be something information that self served, irrespective of the channel, the inquiries coming through. I think then the other key thing alongside automation, we’re finding a lot and speaking with quite a lot of clients and prospective clients about is about improvement in customers journeys. And making making again, irrespective channel, it much slicker for a customer to come into a contact centre, whether it be a voice call, whether it be a web chat, or whether it be a social channel, but have quite a smooth journey to reach their end point, their endpoint might be that the their contact is self served. Or it may well be they end up with an agent, how you can do that in the most effective way possible that feels like that. They’re not being passed from pillar to post. And there’s choice in how they get to that point and what meets what they want, and what their objectives are of the call.

So did you think this sort of certainly Maria last chance to chatting, I mean, there’s been a huge enthusiasm around digital and digital journeys, and it seems sort of quite sort of almost like sort of one sided? Does it sound do you think it’s getting a lot more sort of sophisticated in terms of our understanding it of it and like how you then Interplay the different the different channels and is that maturity, you think the slides are coming to market?

I think there’s, there’s a lot of people who want that level of maturity, it’s, it’s quite a long process, the whole I know the word digital transformation, it’s very broad into one organisation, it might be, we’ve, we’ve started using SMS as well as like our voice channels, whereas other organisations, it’s really evolved in a digital journey and actually improving the channels and the mechanisms that are in place. So I think there’s absolute evolution, this desire for organisations to want to improve their, their digital journeys for customers, I think the way it’s, it appears to be starting to go. And I think the way it’ll go more is, at times, sometimes organisations will look at digital journeys and try and say what digital journeys that we want our customers to go down because it suits are maybe systems processes and the data we hold, I think there’s definitely seems to be more of a trend of moving towards, actually what do our customers want? How and how can we facilitate that

so much more of a consumer centric or a customer centric type of thinking? And how do they determine which ones to go after then rather than you because you can look at and say, Well, this is the one that cost the most is that are we going to do that first? And that’s that’s a that’s a company centric model, isn’t it? How do you how do you go about making sure you didn’t was that most important from a customer point of view, rather than financially the most?

Yeah, and, and it takes time. And I think, you know, one of the key this goes back to, you know, one of the key activities we’re seeing, it’s that journey analysis and improvement and trying to optimise. So it’s really trying to understand what customers do want, you know, how they what digital journeys they value. The difficulty is it. It’s not a simple thing to do. It’s not a simple thing to assess, you know, what is the right channel and what is the right approach, but there are tools to help with that. So, within engage Hub One Other things that we offer is we’ve got a demand analysis tool. And what that looks at really is, it, it’s a lot of data in terms of what are people contacting our organisation about, and it can be covered that across different channels. And it’s really trying to harness that data to look for insights within it, to best look at not just finding out what the key themes and journeys and inquiries are, but also what customers are saying about the way they want to engage with an organisation. So it’s really trying to trying to use tools to build up a picture and a profile to help support the process of like digital journeys.

And I suppose there’s also quite nice linkage here to some of the stuff being talked about in financial services around the consumer duty piece, but it’s also around like that customer centric piece is almost like what does the customer want to do? What do they want to achieve? And then how does your communications then fit within that?

Exactly. And I think within that process, as well, and looking at the journey analogy, you know, the journey analysis and the tracking journeys, and what’s happening, is looking for snags within journeys, where there might be something maybe a lot of people are dropping off at a certain point, isn’t really doing a bit of a deep dive as to why people are dropping off there. Or they drop it off actually, because the you know, an IVR or web chat flow isn’t set up correctly, or you’ve deflected to another digital channel. And it’s not the message isn’t resonating, for whatever reason, it’s really using the data at your disposal to look at actually what’s happening here. Why is it happening? And how can we improve and optimise it to actually offer something that’s better for us as an organisation because it helps remove more demand from our contact centres, or actually, and every bit as importantly, it gives the customers the right journey they want. And it only enables them to have their inquiry answered,

do you think we need a new set of KPIs or measures to then really look at like effective contacts, we would definitely look at contact rate or look at, you know, average handle time or percentage digital or, you know, you know, volumes by different channels do do we need to think in a new way to measure that across customer journeys? I mean, what what’s your kind of view on that?

I think so I think that we’re starting to see there’s more different KPIs coming in. So I know obviously, not that it’s a new one. But we’re finding like first contact resolution is becoming ever more prominent, particularly as there is the switch between automation and, you know, a conversation with a with a physical agent, whether it be via telephone or web chat. So that certainly is something that becomes seems to become more pertinent across a number of different customers we’ve got I think, also, there’s probably some analysis into so the average handling time, just really understanding how that differs by channel, as well, because obviously, it’s, you know, historically, a telephone call will be the longest average handling time, as a live conversation piece, at least you get other channels such as the likes of email, it might be more a 24 or 48 hour process to respond, if someone’s contacted via that channel, but it’s not a live real time conversation anyway. So I think understanding the different channels, reporting on them differently, you know, handle average contact time by channel is important things such as first call resolution, then assessing as well. Again, it is by a single channel and someone’s contacting you again, what their return or repeat rate via channel is. Because I think then what you can understand is actually maybe you’ve got an average handle time on a web chat. As an example, that might be a two minute conversation with an agent, whereas that conversation might have been a five or six minute conversation on a phone call. But then you’re finding a 40% Repeat contact rate within seven days, I think it’s really line in the different reporting up together to get a holistic view of actually, well, this channel is great, because we know it’s 40% of the time, but actually, the number, the repeat rates that mean that overall the actual overall handling time by an agent is higher than it would be on something where you get a higher success rate in the first conversation,

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I suppose as a centre, like total cost of outcome isn’t, yeah, total speed to outcome. And to your point, it might actually take longer if it’s an asynchronous channel to speak to outcome than if then it was a personal challenge, but that might actually be a good thing. It’s like we want to think about all these things.

Exactly. I think I think that’s a really good point the you know, the the total outcome for a contact, you know, incorporating both automation. And you know, if that can be self serve to actually the different individual agent lead contact channels irrespective, as you say, whether it’s an asynchronous message that actually He’s done over a half an hour period of time, because that suits the individual. Yeah. And then agent can have multiple chats at that time or whether it is a real time, full length conversation in one go.

Yeah. Yeah. And this was cost of living is obviously a big hot topic at the moment. And I know you guys do work in the collection space, but we should do work in, you know, in upstream in like Customer Care, and those kind of areas as well. I mean, are you seeing are you seeing firms changing their approach, as we sort of, you know, as we get as we get further into it, and potentially like seeing higher volumes coming through? I mean, it certainly the collection space, it feels like there’s been less in collections in terms of collections volumes, but probably more calls that are happening in customer services. I mean, you think people sort of like getting ready for what might come? Or I mean, how are firms reacting to that?

Yeah, we’re certainly starting to see that. There seems to be a lot of planning into actually, you know, how the increased cost of living is going to impact people from energy to they’re likely people who are re mortgaging in the next 12 to 24 months, that fairly considerable impact that will have on people, what we are finding is, there’s lots of planning, there’s, there seems to be a deeper dive of assessment of organisations budgets as well, because obviously, their costs are gonna go up. The majority of them, particularly for things such as energy, where there’s a fairly significant for some of the large organisations. In particular, where there is like, bricks and mortar stores if you’re looking at a retail organisation ERATION costs and those kinds of things. Right, exactly, exactly. So we’re seeing that, I think that the planning seems to be around, you know, in view of what we ate, or some of the expectations we’ve got as how this is going to impact some people. What do we need to put in place now to ensure that we’re best positioned to help our customers deal with the challenges they’re going to face help our customers obviously, as an organisation side, they’re in it to make money? How are we going to ensure that we safeguard ourselves to deal with the likely increase in the cost of living, and ensure that we’re positioned in a way that we can meet some of those challenges head on and help the people we need to

meet producing any kind of change between I suppose, almost like marketing type communication, which is around business growth versus servicing type communication, which is around here’s the heads up, something might be coming down the pipe for you versus collections conversation, which is something’s already happened. We were here to help. I mean, is that is that kind of mix almost like those, those three sort of changing? It felt like collections? In the pandemic? It was definitely that the latter. But now we’ve got into almost like, there’s been a return to marketing, but it feels like it’s maybe starting to shift a little bit.

Yeah, I think on the marketing side, I mean, I’m seeing it personally, myself in terms of marketing messages I’m getting as well as some of the customers will work within that area. I think it’s almost, and I think this is a theme as well, that follows on from the summer where, you know, there’s very, very high numbers of people going on holiday, particularly people going abroad, because you can, again, eras, irrespective of the fact that we all know there’s financial tougher times that come in, because the costs are living, everything’s going up. It still feels like from a marketing perspective, there’s almost we’re at the stage where we’re going, we you know, you need to enjoy yourself now. Because next year is going to be tough. 2024 is going to be tough. So I think that message in the narrative will change a bit. As we move into 2023, it might be a softer, I think value will obviously be very much played upon in some of the marketing messages, consolidation as well. And that might be for things like, you know, it could be broadband players with packaging your TV, I think there’s going to be lots more things packaged to try and advocate, the savings, you can you can derive from a marketing perspective. And organisations are offering multiple products or services for you. I think then, as you you rightly articulated in terms of collections, I think there’s a lot of work and planning going into place around data communication lines. And I think, you know, one of the biggest, most important things is that ultimately, there’s going to be a lot of people who can’t afford to pay for our outstanding debts they’ve got for certain things, and then it’s about prioritising, which is the most important thing, you know, what are my key basic human needs within that? And I think from the organisation sides, keeping communication lines open is absolutely essential advocate in the fact that they’re there to help the individual and yes, we accept you can’t pay Oh, we’d like you to, but we understand. We have a lot of customers who are facing similar challenges, but what can you afford to pay us how can we help you How can we try and make it as smooth as possible that journey? And I think the challenge is, if those communication lines aren’t open, then it’s going to be shut down, it’s going to be a real challenge to try and recoup outstanding payments that might be owed.

I mean, I’m certainly a big advocate of like, how can you contact people now? Before they have difficulties? Yes. Because then you’ve almost like you’ve done the marketing to a certain extent to say, Well, if you do have difficulties, you know where to come. Right. So it’s kind of like it’s, now’s a great time to be a sort of getting out and doing that to a certain extent. And you can do it in a low cost way as well. If you do in a low cost way. It avoids the cost, you know, potentially in a few months time if things do do go further sale.

Yeah, no, I agree. I think that pre emptive nature is definitely very important. I think, as part of that process, ensuring that, you know, you’ve got, you’ve got the right, correct contact data across multiple different sources. Because I think that what that then enables, and I know, actually, you asked an earlier question about digital channels, and how effective and how they can be used, and how you can also try and allow and empower the customer to use the channel they want. If you’ve got the data to contact them via multiple channels, I think that helps. Because what it allows you to do then really is build a solution, we’ve got something that we can do around like a contact cascade, where you can put multiple sources a day, and put an automated kind of waterfall type contact flow. And what what you can do by that, is that building up a picture of what’s the most effective route to reach and engage with someone?

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And I suppose yeah, and the combination of the combination of those? I did see, I did see some reports, just in terms of, I suppose investment in new tech. I mean, I know there’s been sort of like a wave of investment that’s really happened over the last couple of years, given given the situation that’s happened. I did see a report that was saying that, you know, maybe some of that investments would have been slowing, as people look at, you know, their own their own expenses, or businesses look at their own expenses. Are you seeing any of that yet? I mean, and is that the right time to be cutting back or?

I certainly see with our some of our customers anyway, there is, there’s much more focus on budgets and the cost base for, you know, some of the external sources, things like the rising energy costs, and how, how that’s going to impact the day to day sort of continuous improvement programmes, their customer contact channels, the technology in place, and what they’re going to do and how they’re going to continue to build out in the next year or two, there seems to be more focus, it’s leading to probably some slower, slower decisions on projects, we’re actually seeing a lot of there’s a lot of conversations, there’s a lot of reviews on projects, what we’re finding from existing customers and new prospects, where there’s a lot going on, people are looking to learn and understand a lot and assess what’s out there and what can be done. But then when it comes down to actually execute in and agreeing and moving forward. I think things are slower at that point, because of the budgets. I mean, one thing I would say is, it might be quite a short sighted view, if there is like a too much of a pullback on things like the multi channel approach, because ultimately, whilst we’re advocating the ability to reach people on multiple channels, there is processes you can put in place and look at, you know, which is the cheapest channel to serve. And then what that can enable you if you know, if you are concerned about budget challenges, it can be within your caste contact cascades, you go with cheaper channel to serve, or it might be there’s no cost for some of those, if it’s triggering out certain channels there, there’s not a third party costs. And I think providing you do that in collaboration with you know, some of your report in your journey analysis. And actually you’re looking at well, we can see from physical cost, its cost as this amount to, to send via maybe email or push notification where it’s maybe not the third party costs. But actually, we’re seeing again, a success rate of 5%. Whereas we know the cost to serve might be 10 times higher via SMS or WhatsApp. But we’re seeing 40% uptake, I think, as long as you’ve got the ability to look at them and assess actually, what’s the bigger picture and whilst it might be cheaper to serve, it brings us so much less that actually, it’s not more effective from an overall ROI.

And I suppose some of it comes back to almost like what are you solving for? Do you remember the functionality next? So we have the solver functionality? And it’s like, well, it comes back to that metrics question, doesn’t it? So what is the metric you’re after? So is it is it time to resolution is a you know, total cost is a you know, contact rates, engagement rate, whatever it is and then solving For that, you can put the combination in according to how you want.

I think so, I think it’s really, really important that you you are measuring the right thing. And you’ve got the right KPIs that actually run the pin in what you’re looking to achieve, rather than maybe quite a, quite a tried and tested KPI that you’ve done for years, because you’ve always done it. But like, I think markets are changing technology change. And obviously, there’s some serious challenges. I think we all expect the next couple of years from companies to consumers, and it’s moving with those times to look at actually, do we need to change what we’re measuring? And it is it unrealistic to expect what we did one or two years ago? And how do we ensure that we are continuing to assess the right metrics?

I mean, one of the trends we’ve been seeing, I suppose is is personalization. And I suppose something automation can help with we, you know, with with flexibility, you’re flexing, flexing your your business process for higher volumes, you know, but personalization also goes the other way we strike creates extra segments to basically, for you to basically manage, I mean, how important you think that’s going to be the sort of personalised communications, personalised communication journeys almost in the future in terms of getting engagement?

Yeah, and I think I think it’s essential, because I think the one size fits all, particularly for things such as collections just isn’t going to work. I think, you know, utilising the data to personalise the communication is essential. I think the good thing now is almost maybe contradicting slightly what you said about automation can speed things up, improve things, whereas personalization brings more complexity to it, I think with the right technology, I think actually, and using your automation, providing its programme properly within your software, and you’re utilising the data and continuing to review that data, both in an automated and kind of validate it in a manual way as well, you can actually drive automation campaigns into future personalization, contact strategies, because the technology there, and certainly from the Engage up side, we are tools will enable you to use that to improve future personalization. And I think personalization is going to be massive from, you know, looking at vulnerable customers and how you handle them to, you know, regular repeat customers. And if we go back to the contact centre side of things, you know, is providing a different journey, say someone’s come in, they’ve gone through an Automation Engine, they would appear to have been self served, because they’ve dropped off, but then they’ve called back because actually, they never really got the answer they want. It’s how, you know, both from outbound if you’re chasing maybe outstanding payments to inbound, actually, we see these guys have dropped off, how can we get them somewhere quicker to ensure that actually, they dropped off? Because maybe they wanted to? They got the information, but just check in with them? Actually, we saw you were speaking to us yesterday, did you get what you needed, and trying to try to work on the data you’ve got within your automation engines to prioritise them?

It’s almost like that Six Sigma approach, like, how do you say, well, here’s, here’s, here’s what happened? And then how do I then do it to then stop those errors happening in the future?

Exactly. So it’s all very well, like automation, one of the key drivers is removing avoidable contact, you know, contact where someone can self serve or get the information within other channels or via other avenues. And whether that actually is in a message within an automated IVR. Maybe whether that’s they’ve they want a latest balance amount in the valid text, whilst the within the IVR, the prompt that or maybe they’ve been sent a link to a help centre or some FAQs, that’s all very well, if that served the purpose, and it’s answered what they need, but actually, if they got maybe part of it, and they needed to speak about something else, ensuring actually your understanding that or maybe they, they kept asking to speak to an agent, but that option wasn’t available in the in the IVR, or made IVR. Ensuring that you’re still capturing what they’re trying to do, and maybe serve in a different journey next time to offer, you know, a good, if not great customer experiences is really, really key. So I think that personalization and orchestrating the journey through the use of the data is very, very important. And what do

you think the biggest challenges are in terms of like, trying to generate that? I mean, obviously, you must have a Data Challenge, I’d imagine. But what are the other ones?

Yeah, data is definitely always the biggest challenge in that probably more for the outbound campaigns. There’s a lot of organisations who’s got siloed systems, multiple data sources, that it’s not just the system silos, but actually the data sources themselves might be siloed. It might be out of date data. Incorrect. So I think, look into, as part of your engagement programmes, check in that actually, the data you hold for customers is, if not the latest, it’s certainly not outdated. It’s not maybe in the incorrect format, you’ve got it across multiple channels. And there are things you can do when you’re engaging with customers, either from, you know, from a spoken agent level, asking for contact data to actually getting more data. If someone’s going for an Automation Engine, that there’s ways and tools, you can help improve that. That’s, that’s always the biggest challenge. I think the other thing then is going back to siloed, again, is it’s not just the customers dated data is siloed data sources, whether that be from an organization’s CRM system, ERP systems, maybe you’ve got a third party system, say for retail as an example, it might be a logistics provider, it’s actually orchestrating that data into one cohesive piece of information that enables you to drive personalization and effective way.

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Yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, I think so. I’m just sitting here thinking a bit about, I can’t get over the fact that, you know, are we thinking about the metrics that in the right way, or we think about KPIs in the right way? And the fact that, you know, do we have to sort of break out from more almost like traditional thinking. So we think of it traditionally, almost like, traditionally think of processes as processes, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that, as we think of it as human beings. And we need to change it. So he’s become, let’s think, in terms of like, what’s the data throughout it almost like, it’s like, how do we create that data set throughout it, you know, is that we have a change of thinking even in terms of measures, so things like speed to action, and I talked about it earlier, and you said, Well, maybe that’s not the right thing. And maybe that’s not the right thing, maybe that’s just me, thinking in the old way, instead of the new way, which is completely different measure and much more sort of data centric kind of approach that gets the customer to the right outcome, probably with the lowest cost, the lowest repeat calls, those kinds of things. I mean, do we need to sort of change our mindset in terms like how we think about processes completely,

I think we, if not totally change, I think we need to evolve it and ensure that actually, we’re not stuck into tried and tested methodology that maybe did work in 2019, before, everything that’s happened in the past three years, and the things that are going on in the markets at the moment and are expect to in the next couple of years. So I think, when you say about moving with the times, and I will talk about with technology, about thinking but also I think processes and as technology changes, it means that there’s probably certain processes that your was used to do can now be done through technology that may and they need to be assessed in a different way measured in a different way. I think. Also another thing you need to do, as well as I think you need to validate and optimise on a more regular basis, just to deal with the changes at the moment. And just to check that actually, are we finding a change, whether it’s people contact us via the channels they contact as why they’re contacting us, or from the outbound side? Are we finding that we’re not able to reach a lot more people than we ever could or a we find in different behaviours there. I think it really is about then harnessing and reviewing that information. And trying to use that to feed into, you know, different programmes and look at and try and assess what that data is telling you.

So it’s just not just about looking at the data where we sit now. It’s about how do you then was like, use that to feedback, feed that back, and then you know, further improve your processes and keep on doing that. And it’s not just a one time thing?

Yeah, I think so. I think now probably more than ever, in the certainly in recent years, I think I think it’s essential to do that. Yeah.

So when we look into the new year, and across the across the rest of 2023. In what’s what do you think the outlook is going to be?

I think there’s, there’s quite a lot of trepidation at the minute. For organisations and individuals. I definitely don’t think that’s helped by the fact that whatever news channel you turn over, it’s doom and gloom, negativity. There’s there’s very little positive news out there. And maybe as I’ve got older and more cynical, I add a perception that there was something different in the past. I’m not sure there really was. But I think because there’s been a lot of major world events in the past, sort of two, two and a half years. It’s easy to get embroiled in a cycle of negativity, particularly when you’re being I’m told on every news channel, every news station, whether you’re on the TV radio, like the, it’s always 99%, negative or bad things that are going on, you’re going to die from this, you’re going to die from that you’re not going to have any money to take when you go anyway. So I think there’s a lot of fear and trepidation in the market, from consumers from organisations. I think if you take a step back and look at things more objectively, there’s a lot of positive things, there’s a lot of opportunities, there’s a lot of things you can do out there, I think there’s going to be changes to the way things are done. And in terms of as quite a wide ranging, broad statement, but I think there’s probably going to be a lot of changes in the next year we’ve seen in the past few years is a number of major organisations who you probably never thought would not be around are no longer about, I think that trend will continue across a few different sectors in the coming year. I think it’s the organisations that take a pragmatic, but sensible approach to actually looking at what for things such as automation, such as personalization, such as, you know, cross channel communications, looking at, actually, we know this, because this is going to cost us a lot. Now, it may be investment that, you know, stretching the budgets of it, but then it’s that longer term perspective in terms of in the next 12 to 24 months, where there’s going to be a number of financial challenges for all sorts of different people and organisations, you know, what do we believe that’s gonna give us as a payback in the current market place, compare and almost not throw out how that would have been reviewed and assessed and measured, two, three years ago, but it’s looking at where we are now. And what we need, what’s the most essential way to kind of continue to progress and thrive as an organisation. Going back to this, you know, the circle of negativity within the news, I think, actually one of your comments earlier about, you know, pre empting contact and conversations and doing all we can now to stay engaged and say, We’re here to help you. I think that’s probably more important than it’s ever been, to really just show that caring, sort of attitude and empathy towards customers and understanding that, you know, there’ll be a lot of people out there probably more people than there’s been for quite a few years, who’ve got challenges that are absolutely no fault of their own. And it’s at this time that if companies support them in the right way, and obviously a lot of that support can be underpinned by technology to help that process. But if they support them in the right way, they’ve probably got a more loyal customer than they ever had for a longer period of time. I think when things really start to turn, you know, turnover and things start to improve the market start to improve, I think the value and reward for doing that in the right way. I think there’ll be really, really significant payback and the organisations that have done things in the right way will definitely benefit come that time.

Simon has ever it’s great to chat with you. Thanks very much for making the time out. I really appreciate it and some some really interesting insights and we’ll just have to see how, how the year kind of how the year kind of plays out.

Absolutely no, my pleasure, Chris. And likewise, it’s always good to speak with you

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